Do cuts in the number of B.C. conservation officers result in more animals euthanized?

WATCH: BC’s conservation service is seeing a spike in calls but fewer officers are available to respond to them. Linda Aylesworth explains.

Social media is continuing to play a major role in rallying behind a B.C. conservation officer, who was suspended last week after sparing the lives of two orphaned bear cubs he had been ordered to destroy.

Since Conservation Officer Bryce Casavant was suspended without pay pending a performance investigation, some high-profile people have come to his defense via social media.

On July 7, British actor and comedian Ricky Gervais spoke out on Twitter asking to “reinstate this honourable man.” And now, American political satirist Bill Maher has brought attention to Casavant by posting the issue on his Facebook page.

An online petition that was launched to re-instate Casavant has now reached more than 200,000 supporters and there is an online fundraising campaign to support the care of the cubs.

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“Bryce is still currently suspended and we believe the investigation into the suspension will begin this week,” says BC Government Employees’ Union president Stephanie Smith.

READ MORE: Emails reportedly ordering suspended conservation officer to euthanize orphaned bear cubs leaked

Not only has this highly-charged emotional case shone a light on how the B.C. Ministry of Environment deals with wildlife but also its own conservation officers.

Smith says the real problem “is that problem calls for wildlife over the last decade have increased by 70 per cent but in actual ‘boots on the ground’ conservation officers have decreased by 32 per cent.”

According to statistics from the Society of B.C. Conservation Officers, between 2001 and 2012 every region — with the exception of one — has lost field conservation officers.

Overall their numbers have declined from 132 to 90 or a 32 per cent reduction. Casavant is the only field conservation officer for North Vancouver Island.

“They are all telling us of stories of increased workload broaden mandates but less resources to do the work that they do,” Smith says.

Some claim animals that could benefit from relocation or orphans that could be rehabilitated are being destroyed as a result.

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“We have far too few conservation officers in this province… and people have been saying we need to have more boots on the ground,” says Port Coquitlam MLA Mike Farnworth.

“And this is an example of what happens in cases like that.”

But Minister of Environment Mary Polak disagrees.

“We’ve seen no evidence that there has been an increase in the euthanization [sic] of wild animals,” Polak told Global News.

“And in particular, we’ve seen no evidence that has anything to do with staffing levels or styles of management.”

The cubs will be ready for release back into the wild next year and their keepers say they are at low risk to become habituated like their mother.

While it’s clear many believe Officer Casavant was right to defy orders and give them a second chance, those who have the power to terminate him have yet to decide.

~ with files from Linda Aylesworth

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